The Tour Specialists Tour Blog
An Experience You Will Never Forget: Ribbon Reefs and The Cod Hole
Posted on May 28, 2013 by Sophie Tabouel
The Ribbon Reefs
The 10 Ribbon Reefs trace the most easterly segments of the Great Barrier Reef and border the Continental Shelf starting well off the coast between Port Douglas and Cooktown and stretch north past Lizard Island.
Due to their remoteness, only the most well equipped liveaboard vessels can access these magnificent reefs.
The Ribbon Reefs play host to some of the world’s best dive sites and are a playground for the professional Game fisherman.
They are arguably the most healthy and well protected coral reefs in the world. With over 3000 marine species calling the Great Barrier Reef Home, it is understood why the Ribbon Reefs have become a scuba diving mecca and on many a divers bucket list.
The Cod Hole
Located at the top of Ribbon Reef #10, The world famous Cod Hole gets its name from the Giant Potato Cod that live there. It was first made famous in the late 80’s by Ron and Valery Taylor, Professional Underwater Videographers that showed it off to the world.
Even for the most experienced and well-travelled Diver, the Cod Hole is one of the most spectacular Dive sites due to its extended visibility and abundance of rare marine life.
To give you an idea of the geography of the site, if you could imagine coral bommies that run parallel in lines and form in step-like patterns that descend to around 30-40m/100-130ft and continues. In the shallows there are overhangs where you can find white tip reef sharks hanging out on the sandy bottom. Down in the nadirs, there are magnificent giant coral fans that are home to the pigmy sea horse. A few of the other animals that frequent the Cod Hole are; Manta and Eagle Rays, hundreds of anemone fish, schools of parrotfish and loggerhead sea turtles. Pods of Dolphins often bounce through the Pass chasing schools of bait fish.
Massive hard corals that are estimated to be well over 1000 years old flourish at the Cod Hole. In fact, there is relatively no damage to any of the Coral. And with thanks to the raging currents that pass through you can, more than likely, be blessed with 25m+ visibility.
The Dive Boats that frequent the Cod Hole have special permits that allow them to feed the beautiful Potato Cod. Wearing protective gloves, they hand feed them small amounts of pilchards as their punters gather in a circle on the ocean floor and watch them in awe they are giant. Quite an exhilarating experience!
The Cod Hole is arguably the golden jewel of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is destined to leave an unforgettable imprint in the hearts of all its visitors.
The Coral Sea
The Coral Sea refers to the stretch of water beyond the Great Barrier Reef to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands. It is renowned for its pristine waters and amazing Atoll Reefs. The Coral Sea is the world’s largest marine eco system and due to its remoteness remains immensely untouched. The closest Coral Sea Reefs are located approximately 200 nautical miles off the shores of Cairns and Port Douglas in Tropical Far North Queensland.
There are many reefs in The Coral Sea, but the most visited is definitely Osprey Reef. Osprey Reef is on roughly the same latitude as Lizard Island, about 250km east.
Osprey Reef is like an underwater mountain with vertical walls that comes up from the ocean floor over 1000m and break the surface on a low tide. Scuba Diving is recommended for advanced divers. A trip to Osprey Reef is incomparable to any other reef in the world and will honestly change your life! With up to 90m of visibility, a chance for a shark feed dive, schools of Manta Rays, Dogtooth Tuna and big oceanic sharks!
The Coral is just as amazing and abundant as the marine animals that call it home. Coral fans as big as houses, anemones bigger than you’ve ever seen, the list of mind blowing features could go on forever!
Cairns to Osprey Reef and Coral Sea dive operators have over 40 years combined experience running these trips. They are committed to safe diving practises, delivering the most memorable scuba diving experiences, with professional and experienced dive instructors and boat crew. The dive boats are comfortable and stable, offering the best possible ride, with superior accommodation ranging from quad share and double cabins, deluxe ocean view and state rooms.
Maximum depth on scuba dives at Osprey Reef is 40m/130ft and complies with Australian safe dive practices. Thorough safety briefings are given prior to each dive.
For those wanting to expand their scuba diving skills, you may choose to complete a PADI Advanced or Nitrox Course while on your Coral Sea or Ribbon Reefs trip as most of the liveaboard vessels have Nitrox membrane system so that their divers can get the maximum bottom time out of their dives.
Minke and Humpback Whales
During the cooler months of May to August Antarctic Whales make their way to the northern tropical waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to find a willing mate or two and to give birth to their young as the warmer waters provide an abundance of food sources and safe conditions for the calves to grow and learn how to survive with their mums.
Whilst going out to the reef at this time of year it is highly likely you will spot pods of Giant Humpback and Dwarf Minke Whales cruising and breachingin the deep channels all over the Reef during these times.
Swim With Whales
Port Douglas is the only destination in Australia that offers a day trip to the reef and the opportunity to swim with Dwarf Minke Whales. The permit given to them from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority basically allows humans to snorkel whilst holding onto a floating safety line that is hooked to the back of the boat and all of the snorkelers hold onto this rope with their snorkel gear on and faces underwater waiting for the whales to pop up to take a peek at them.
Swimming with Humpback Whales is obviously not allowed simply because of their massive size and the fact that they can become quite protective of their young as it would pose a serious safety threat if they were to be having fun and decide to breach. However, to witness these majestic creatures from safely up on the deck of the day boat is a sight that will blow your mind.
The best way to ensure a life time experience with whales is definitely by going on a liveaboard boat that mores on the outer Great Barrier Reef. They cover a lot greater distance than a day boat and will venture to the more secluded areas of reef that are not affected by boat traffic. You will be on the boat generally longer than 2 days so your chances of seeing whales more than doubles!
Winter On The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is generally spoilt with crystal clear waters and wonderful conditions for snorkelling and scuba diving however, the colder, winter months of the year bring about the spectacular clearer water.
A chance to dive in 30m+ visibility in the closer reefs and up to 90m in the Coral Sea is nothing short of a dream. Ok so you might have to bust out the wetsuit, but it is definitely worth it! The average water temperature during the winter months is around 25 degrees (Celsius) cold for us northerners! In summer there is a higher level of rainfall and the muddy runoff from the land enters the ocean from the rivers and hampers visibility in the inner reef areas on the days after a huge down pour but it quickly goes away with the currents. Also there is a shift in ocean currents; during winter the currents come from the southern Antarctic waters, whereas in summer the currents flow from the northern tropical waters that are rich in plankton and nutrients and makes for a little less visibility, on average around 15m in the closer reefs and 30m in the Coral Sea. This is the Trade Winds season.
Coral Spawning, or “sex on the reef” as it’s nick-named in the dive industry, happens annually at night time around the full moon in the first week of December each year, however predicting an exact place and time is very difficult for even the smartest of marine biologists who still find the reasoning around the timing of event a bit of a mystery.
To best describe what the coral looks like as it is spawning, imagine the coral is smoking, or has millions of tiny white flakes coming out of it. These are the eggs and sperm that have been released by the coral polyps. They sometimes cloud up the water and cause a hindrance on visibility; it can seem as if you are diving through a snow storm! It’s the most phenomenal experience that will leave you with many questions that perhaps will never be answered.
During the spawning season the dive operators will run specialised night diving trips to give the general public a chance at witnessing the extraordinary event but the best way to see it is on a liveaboard dive boat.
For more information about diving tours click here or call us on 1300 761 612
Author Leah – A Cairns Holiday Specialists Tour Specialist
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